A few months ago I visited Avigail, an illegal West Bank outpost founded in 2001 by four idealistic Israelis who dreamed of expanding Israel’s line of settlements over the Green Line.
At the time of my visit, the U.S. administration was demanding a settlement freeze as a precursor to Israeli-Palestinian meetings and on my visit I wanted to gauge the mood and ask if they were worried that a freeze may lead to eventual dismantling and evacuation.
Months later a building freeze is in place. Israelis and Palestinians are meeting directly for the first time in nearly two years to review options for arriving at a final stage agreement. Palestinian and international pressure for the ongoing construction freeze persist and talk of settlement dismantling looms closer.
So it seemed natural to check back in with Avigail’s young community leaders as Palestinian and Israeli principals readied to reconvene in Sharm el Sheikh.
Thirty-year-old Avigail founder Elisha Medan admitted that he may be naïve but his expectations for any outcome from the current talks are low:
It’s almost like a ritual. Every few years Israel gets a new prime minister and to keep the Americans and Israel’s left happy, they sit down with the other side. It’s like: See, we’re talking. Look at us. Nothing came out of Oslo because they don’t accept what we offer. So we’re not worried about these talks either.
But if the sides were to ultimately reach an agreement stipulating land concession and settlement evacuation, Medan maintains he is still not troubled because, in his opinion, there’s no reason to move Avigail residents from their spot.
We are very close to the Green Line and we are a block of Jewish settlers. Why not move the border or the fence around us? There’s no reason not to keep us where we are.
Medan seems to be overlooking the simplest of all reasons: negotiating power. In a bargaining chip effort at negotiating the status of larger settlements like Kiryat Arba, the “fringe outposts” deemed illegal and disallowed building permits from the get-go may be the Israeli government’s first proverbial “sacrificial barter” in getting to tougher final status agreements.